If you have been following Econsultancy recently, you will have borne witness to an increasing amount of articles about beacons.

For those of you that may have missed it, beacons are a simple, elegant technology that uses the new Bluetooth low-energy protocol to transmit a unique identifier.

Alongside a smartphone or similar, these can be used to determine your location, track your movements, or trigger an action based upon said location.

Uses in retail

Beacons originated as a technology designed by Apple to electronically welcome you into their ubiquitous stores through their Apple Store app.

By having these devices implanted in their stores, Apple was able to streamline the payment processes, push offers and track store usage with anyone who had the app enabled on their phone.

The retail world is beginning to really herald the future of beacons, with many proclaiming that the number of deployed beacons will grow to more than 4bn worldwide by just 2018.

In many ways I see this as a chance to make bricks and mortar stores relevant again, and not just click and collect operations for their online presences.

Having the technology to promote to customers in a hyper-relevant way about the products they’re looking at, cross-sell and upsell at every point means that stores can begin to behave like a contemporary website and ‘relate’ to the customer.

Uses in hospitality

Beacons are becoming increasingly deployed in other sectors too, especially in hospitality where I believe it can be less about selling and more about providing a step-change in service.

Beacons offer hoteliers an unparalleled opportunity to take their product, augment it with technology and automatically add a star to their current rating.

The hotel General Manager can deliver a more meaningful, more personalised service to their guests, without adding layers of extra staff and administration.

When you think about it, the hotel is still quite a dumb operation.

Unless you’re an incredibly regular customer, the hotel likely knows very little about you other than your name, address and, if they’re lucky, your email address. Many hotel GMs will openly admit even this data can be ropey, with multiple duplicate entries in their CRM with Mickey Mouse email addresses akimbo.

They don’t know your preferences, your allergies, your predilections or even what you look like. When you walk up to that reception, you’re as good as an alien. And if you came via an Online Travel Agent like Hotels.com, your loyalty likely lies with the OTA than the hotel brand.

What chance does that hotel ever have of making you feel truly welcome and valued when the odds are stacked against them?

It’s in solving this challenge that beacons come into their own.

Right now, if you’re a hotel brand, you’re probably contemplating an app (if you don’t already have one) but for all the reasons above, coupled with consumer apathy, there’s likely not going to be much take-up of it if you get one.

Why? Well typically all you can offer the consumer is some nice promotions, quick booking of your hotels (only yours!) and potentially the ability to open their room with their phone, if you’re willing to shell out thousands on replacing all your door locks.

Imagine if you could give the consumer a genuine reason to own your app. Something like a much better and more personalised service!

Beacons can make this objective become a reality. With a modest and inexpensive beacon network deployed in your hotel, the potential is almost limitless in what you can offer the consumer.

With an app and beacons deployed, you will know your guest has arrived as soon as they enter the car park. You will know what they look like, what their preferences are, where they’re from, what language they speak and so much more.

As soon as they enter the hotel and commence using your facilities you learn so much more, all without either you or the customer lifting a finger.

This sounds like a powerful proposition to the GM, however Beacons offer so much more potential.

When you’re a resort property, beacons allow you to observe your guest’s movements in real time. You learn the facilities they consume, when they come and go from your property and the time and money they spend in your bars and restaurants.

More specifically, you can learn the things they consume so you can better learn their preferences. Heck, with enough beacons deployed, you can map out their favourite table in the restaurant.

With these two layers of data you have an unparalleled view of your customer and you can use advanced CRM and data tools to build up a picture of your customer base in a way not previously possible. Imagine the possibilities:

  • Greet loyal or important guests seamlessly and personally with info from the app and beacons
  • Manage guest feedback and prompt for reviews at appropriate junctures
  • Advise your kitchen to stock up appropriately as an inbound guest group are Kosher only 

And for the guest, deliver them a seamless product offering driven by the app:

  • No need to check in at a desk, with your required details in the app, it does it for you and “drops” the room key on your phone
  • Your room is selected based on your expressed preferences and/or based on your previous stays
  • Get loyalty perks without a loyalty scheme, handed to you as you need them. Walking past our coffee shop? Get a free coffee for booking direct…
  • Sitting at Table 12 and running low on wine? Hit reorder on your app and a top up will be along shortly
  • Allow them to grow loyalty, redeem benefits or even just purchase goods or services just by being there. No need for a card, a number or even to get your phone out your pocket, it’s all handled seamlessly.
  • For high-service brands, you have an instant feedback loop to the hotel, ensuring your issues are dealt with promptly 

And the list goes on.

Better service

In short, what this technology allows more than anything is better service. Hoteliers can actually subtract front-of-house staff from the equation and deliver better services with less overheads.

Luxury brands can give their concierge team a sixth-sense, a way to truly be at one with their guests and be at their beck and call, without having one staff member to each guest

Taking this approach ensures that the consumer learns to embrace this technology. They will trust it and welcome it in their lives.

However, what we as marketers have to resist is the rush to the bottom, the temptation to use beacons to just sell more services rather than actually make our guests feel more welcome.

It is becoming all too easy to say “Welcome to our Hotel, have you tried our new Summer Menu?” or “I see you’re walking past our bar, it’s 3 for 2 on Budweiser.” Of course, channelling relevant offers is a great opportunity and not something that should be straight-out avoided.

However, one must first give before one can take. And the big take from these devices is the apparent loss in privacy they bring. Once the consumer realises this, you could lose them quickly. And then you’re no further forward.

If hotel marketing is to benefit from Beacons, then we need to be good with them and find the balance of improving experience, rather than over spamming with offers and promotions. When things just work to benefit the guest without them needing to act, then it will be embraced.

Your guests want to feel at home, not preyed upon. They want to trust you, they want to be known. But on their terms. Let’s use technology for good and then everyone wins.

If you are responsible for a terrific innovation in tech, then enter it into the Technology category at The Masters of Marketing awards, brought to you by Econsultancy and Marketing Week (closing date September 23).